Seventy-five years after Japanese forces attacked U.S. military installation at Pearl Harbor, Western New Yorkers gathered at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park to remember the more than 2,400 Americans killed in the event which led to the nation joining World War II.
Two World War II veterans were recognized during the ceremony. One of them, John Lukasik of North Tonawanda, delivered keynote remarks. He recalled being in a movie theater with a friend when the news broke of Japan's attack on the island of Oahu.
"I was only 18 at that time. I looked at my friend and I said 'where's Pearl Harbor?'" recalled Lukasik. "We found out it was in Hawaii. Him and I were very, very angry that the Japanese did that to us."
The next day, Lukasik and his friend sought to enlist in the Marines but Lukasik did not pass the physical examination. He was drafted in 1943 and served with the Army Air Corp until 1946. He was stationed on the island of Tinian in the Mariana Islands, from where B29s could take off and land.
Also recognized at Wednesday morning's ceremony was Frank Klinger, who served on the USS Phoenix. He was presented with a special recognition by Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz. Klinger, now 92 years old, spoke of wanting to enlist immediately after the Pearl Harbor attack but, at age 16, was too young. He finally got in, eventually.
But while attendees were thanking the veterans, Klinger said the civilians back home deserve praise as well. As he put it, it was the people back home and their sacrifices, including the rationing of numerous resources, that left more available to be used for the war effort.
"If it wasn't for them, we wouldn't have the equipment," Klinger said.
There aren't many World War II veterans left, officials say. Don Alessi, chairman of the board of directors at the Naval and Military Park, says only four percent of American servicemen who served in the war are still alive. He spoke of their service and of the history they made.
"The attack on Pearl Harbor brought the United States into World War II, which resulted in the end to three dictatorial empires, marked the emergence of the United States as the world's leading military and industrial power, transformed gender roles at home, began the Atomic Age and the Cold War, took radar and computers into the center of modern life and made crimes against humanity a new genre of international law," Alessi said.
The national anthem was performed by the Buffalo Dolls, who also performed popular 1940s songs prior to the ceremony.